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TAS Interviews Geetha Philipupillai about mentoring

May 05, 2021

Geetha Philipupillai was interviewed by Keeping Tabs, The Advocates’ Society’s newsletter, about her experiences in the legal profession and the importance of mentoring.

Geetha Philipupillai, lawyer Goldblatt Partners LLP Q. You clerked before starting your practice; did you experience challenges in this process (either applying or clerking itself) as a woman of colour? It’s difficult to discuss experiences of discrimination in the clerkship process, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that it does happen before we can address it. The experience that probably threw me off the most during the application process was arriving to check-in for an interview (not at the court I clerked at) and being asked by court staff if I was sure I was there for a clerkship interview and not for “the library position”. I was also told by a Black woman lawyer that when she showed up for her clerkship interview she was told “the bail hearings aren’t on this floor.” To highlight a contrasting experience, a white male lawyer once told me that when he went to one of his clerkship interviews, his friend’s dad was a judge on the court and his interviewers broke the ice with an inside joke from the judge he knew. Q. You are a junior call (2018); how do you think that has impacted your experiences? My first few years of practice have been such a steep learning curve. I feel really lucky that the lawyers I practice with have been my champions and mentored me thoughtfully. For example, last fall, Jim McDonald, a senior partner, offered to observe me conducting a re - mote discovery. Much of the examination consisted of the opposing counsel (a white man, much more senior than me) telling me my questions were stupid and that I was wasting my client’s money. The examination ended abruptly with the lawyer and his client virtually “walking out” on the examination by shutting their laptops down. Jim told me what I had done well and what I might do better next time. But he also recognized that how I had responded in the moment was different from how he might have - because of our different personalities, but also because of the difference between us in age, seniority, gender and race. More than anything he showed me the impact that unselfish mentorship can have on a junior lawyer. Jim passed away suddenly in January and I never got to tell him how much of an impact his mentorship had on me. I definitely hope to carry on his example. Q. You practice in the civil litigation and class actions world; in these spaces, what are the barriers or experiences that you face that others may not appreciate? It can feel frustrating to see the profession keep having a conversation about whether discrimination exists. It’s also exhausting and distracting from my work to be in a situation where I’m having to figure out if I’m misreading a situation or if the way someone is treating me is because of my gender and race, and then try to figure out what to do about it. Where I have decided to raise an issue, it’s taken me a long time to do that. The best responses I’ve had as a junior are from lawyers who hear me out, talk me through options to deal with a situation, step in where appropriate, and try to protect my time and energy so that I can focus on my work.


Geetha Philipupillai